Metro to hold public hearings in April on transit needs for North L.A. County and city of Avalon

The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) will be holding a series of Transportation Development Act (TDA) Article 8 Hearing Board Meetings for the use of TDA Article 8 funds in the North County and the City of Avalon.

The TDA Article 8 funds are for those areas of Los Angeles County that do not have Metro service because they are located outside Metro’s service area. These areas include Antelope Valley (Palmdale & Lancaster), Santa Clarita Valley and Santa Catalina Island (City of Avalon). These hearings will determine TDA Article 8 budget funding for FY2011-12 for the North County and Avalon.

This year the hearing board consists of Michael Cano, representing Supervisor Antonovich’s office, Palmdale Mayor James C. Ledford, Lancaster Councilwoman Sherry Marquez, and a representative from Supervisor’s Knabe’s office.

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Input wanted: readers, give us your best TAP questions

It’s been almost a year since our last open call for questions relating to TAP, and since then a few significant milestones have been reached.

  • The most frequently asked question last year was, “Why isn’t there a cash purse available?” As regular readers know, cash purse – officially referred to as stored value – is now available and value can be added at all Metro ticket vending machines as well as online at taptogo.net.
  • Another big question from last year, “What’s the easiest way to get a day pass on a TAP card?” now has a better answer. TAP cards are now available for direct purchase at 22 ticket vending machines across the Metro system. Simply indicate you’d like to purchase a TAP card, choose an amount of value to add or a pass type, swipe your credit card or insert cash and voilà, a shiny new TAP card is spit out of the machine.

With these achievements have come a new set of questions that have popped up in various comment threads and on Twitter. We’d like to use this post to gather your questions so that we can present them to TAP staff and get a new set of answers.

With that in mind, leave your question as a comment to this post or, if you’re old school, send you question to sourcemetro@gmail.com.

Proposed federal budget would cut transportation spending by 31 percent

Click above to download the pdf document.

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) on Tuesday released his proposed “Path to Prosperity” [pdf] federal budget blueprint for the years 2012 to 2021.

It cuts federal transportation spending by 31 percent, according to Transportation Weekly. In particular, the proposal seeks to reduce highway and transit spending and would decline to fund high-speed rail and other new intercity rail projects that can’t turn a profit.

Here’s an excerpt from the New York Times’ Caucus blog about the budget proposal:

Republicans in the House of Representatives are poised to place a dramatic political bet.

Led by the wonkish Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, they will unveil a 2012 budget on Tuesday that wagers their political futures on the assumption that voters are ready to accept tough changes in the most sacrosanct government programs.

The budget they are preparing to embrace in the coming days would slash federal government spending by more than $6 trillion over the next 10 years, mostly by reinventing the nation’s largest social programs in ways that Republicans have talked about for years.

The transportation proposals are on page 32 and 33 of the budget proposal. And the impact on Metro? Hard to say at this point, but Metro certainly uses federal grants for a variety of projects, from purchasing buses to building new rail lines. And, of course, Metro is pursuing the America Fast Forward initiative to increase access to federal financing to build more transit.

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Metro responds to call to cut rail service by 48 percent

Tim Cavanaugh at the Reason Foundation “hit & run” blog recently wrote a post asserting that since Metro decided to cut some bus service due to low ridership, the same should be done to Metro Rail. He suggested a cut of 48 percent to Metro Rail service.

Among his reasons: bus service is more flexible and can be added or subtracted where needed or not needed and rail is very expensive to build and operate. Excerpt:

While buses consume only 35 percent of MTA’s operating budget, they move 80 percent of its passengers. That’s a bargain compared to the Authority’s capital-hungry, debt-fueled trains, which continue to underperform the most modest expectations and have arguably depressed overall ridership on L.A.’s mass transit system.

In previous reporting I said L.A. buses carry three times as many riders as L.A. trains. According to current statistics, that’s closer to four times as many: 1,133,636 daily boardings for buses, against 298,932 for trains. These ratios are essentially unchanged [pdf] over the previous two years. You could eliminate nearly all the city’s rail service and have no more impact on customers than MTA will see with its current cuts.

Our response:

•Nearly 68 percent of Los Angeles County voters in 2008 voted for the Measure R sales tax increase to build a package of rail, bus and highway projects, freeze some fares and raise money for transportation projects for cities in the county. Either two million-plus voters had no idea what they were voting for — which we do not believe is true — or two million voters decided they wanted to have the same kind of bus and rail transit system found in many other metro areas across the globe.

•Buses actually consume about 78 percent of Metro’s operating budget, not 35 percent. For fiscal year 2011, the amounts were $922 million for operating buses and $257 million for rail, according to page 23 of the budget, which is available online at Metro’s website.

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How would America Fast Forward help build transit? See the nifty graphic below!

Click above to see a larger image.

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa — who also serves on the Metro Board of Directors — is in Washington D.C. today for a news conference to promote the America Fast Forward plan.

As many Metro customers are aware, it takes time — often years and years of time — to build transit. The reason: it takes time to complete complex environmental studies and gather the heaps of money needed to actually build anything.

Regular readers here already know that Metro is trying to speed things up. America Fast Forward (AFF) seeks to use low-cost federal loans and bonds to build transit now — before construction costs rise — and then pay that money back using Measure R sales tax revenues. For this to happen, Metro needs changes to federal law, which explains why Villaraigosa is lobbying in Washington.

Metro has also produced a nifty four-page brochure on America Fast Forward. You can read the entire document here — the page above is from that brochure and shows how AFF could greatly expand the money available to build transit across the U.S.

The plan was first known as the 30/10 Initiative — the idea being to build 30 years of Measure R projects in 10 years. But the changes in federal law sought by Metro would also help other transit agencies that could use the federal financing, so the name of the plan has been changed to AFF for purposes of persuading Congress to act now, not later.

The mayor’s office has been tweeting throughout the day on AFF. We’ll try to post some photos and/or video from the event if it becomes available later. In the meantime, here’s the press release from the mayor’s office and here’s a letter he co-wrote to key members of Congress on AFF.

Hey Los Angeles: are you miserable?

Phoenix landed the dubious spot on the WSJ's misery index. Photo by dobieluvrs, via Flickr.

The Wall Street Journal has posted a provocative graphic showing the misery index for large cities around the U.S. The index was calculated using three factors: unemployment, an increase in gas prices and a change in home values.

The least five miserable cities in order, according to the WSJ: Boston, Cleveland, New York, Detroit and Tampa.

The five most miserable cities, with most miserable listed first: Phoenix, Portland, Seattle, Minneapolis and…Los Angeles!

Of course, if only the above three criteria are considered, then the results aren’t very surprising.

•According to the latest federal statistics, California has the second highest unemployment rate in the nation at 12.2 percent, behind only Nevada at 13.6 percent.

•California requires a special formulation of gasoline that has relatively few sources outside the state and results in prices often being higher and more variable here, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

•California real estate tends to rise big and fall big. Conversely, in Detroit the population has shrunk by 25 percent in the past decade and the mayor wants to demolish 10,000 empty residences.

Here’s the thing: these charts are always interesting, although obviously not a true reflection of what makes a person or place “miserable.” As of 1:15 p.m., it was 49 degrees and partly cloudy in Boston, 84 degrees with a few clouds in Phoenix and 78 degrees and sunny in downtown Los Angeles, according to the National Weather Service.

America Fast Forward gets a push by Times columnist and CNBC

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is in Washington D.C. today to push the 30/10 Initiative, which is getting a new name for its national push: America Fast Forward. L.A. Times columnist Tim Rutten uses the occasion to praise the plan to use federal financing to accelerate the construction of Measure R transit projects.

Excerpt:

From the start, 30/10 won the support of the Obama administration and most of the key congressional Democrats involved in making transportation policy, particularly Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif). The midterm elections, however, not only brought the Republicans to power in the House but also changed the conceptual landscape when it comes to federal spending initiatives: Anything resembling an earmark is beyond the pale; any new spending is suspect.

Like most of the country’s mayors, Villaraigosa is keenly aware of local government’s simultaneous need to create jobs and invest in future growth. He has used that shared sentiment — along with President Obama’s observation that 30/10 provides a national template — to build a bipartisan coalition behind America Fast Forward. In an era when bipartisanship is notoriously elusive, this proposal already has been endorsed by both Thomas J. Donohue, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO.

We’ll have more on Villaraigosa’s day in D.C. later.

In addition, CNBC business reporter Erin Burnett sat down with Russell Goldsmith, CEO of Los Angeles-based City National Bank and chair of the Los Angeles Coalition for the Economy & Jobs. The latter organization was formed by leaders of business, labor, academia and non-profits; it has been a strong voice of support of the 30/10 Initiative and America Fast Forward.

The portion discussing America Fast Forward begins at about the 3:20 mark of the video.

Other Board actions taken today

In their meeting today, the Metro Board also took action on a three other items of interest:

•(Item 21) The Board approved a report explaining that the 30/10 Initiative will be called America Fast Forward at a national level. The 30/10 Initiative was created to change federal laws so that federal loans and other financing can be used to accelerate the construction of Measure R projects. The idea is that America Fast Forward better reflects that such changes in the law could also help many other transit agencies in the United States. The changes are sought as part of the next federal transportation bill, which Congress could begin debating this summer.

Here are recent posts about how America Fast Forward could help build transit in Salt Lake City and Denver. We’ll soon be writing about other cities and regions that could benefit.

•(Item 12) The Board approved a $2.26 million contract with HDR Engineering to launch environmental studies of the proposed downtown Los Angeles Streetcar project. The studies are being paid for by the city of Los Angeles and the Community Redevelopment Agency; Metro is providing oversight and technical expertise. Starting the environmental studies will later allow the city to seek federal funds to help build the project. The remaining funds would need to come from the city — for example, downtown residents could vote to tax themselves. That was the strategy used in Portland, Ore., to great success. Here is the streetcar project’s website.

•(Item 12) The Board also approved a $4.77 million contract with STV/PB-ConnectLAX Joint Venture to begin environmental studies of a project to provide some type of transit between Los Angeles International Airport and the new Aviation/Century stop for the Crenshaw/LAX and Green lines. See yesterday’s post for more info.


Bus service changes for June approved by Metro Board

The Metro Board of Directors voted 7 to 6 on Thursday morning to approve changes to Metro bus service, including the cutting and shortening of some lines. The changes are scheduled to go into effect June 26.

The changes amount to about 300,000 hours of service annually — about 100,000 hours less than originally proposed by Metro staff earlier this year. Metro CEO Art Leahy told the Board of Directors that the cuts will help remove low ridership lines and duplicative service from the Metro bus system and that the money saved — about $32 million annually — will help produce a balanced budget for Metro.

Nine million of those dollars will go back into the bus system. Leahy said that the money will also allow him to reallocate 212 Metro employees to improve the cleanliness and maintenance of buses and to work on a real-time system to improve on-time performance.

The yes votes were by the following Board members: Pam O’Connor, Zev Yarolsavsky, Ara Najarian, Mike Antonovich, Don Knabe, Diane DuBois and John Fasana.

The no votes were by the following Board members: Antonio Villaraigosa, Richard Katz, Mark Ridley-Thomas, Mel Wilson, Jose Huizar and Gloria Molina.

“I’m not convinced that all this does is consolidate and make [the bus system] more efficient,” said Villaraigosa. “I can’t find myself being convinced of that argument.”

Lines impacted include the 26, 71, 94, 96, 155, 217, 230, 247, 254, 445, 450x, 485, 577, 634, 751, 757, 760 and 794. Some lines will be shortened, some expanded and some will not run on some times or days. Please see the full list of changes beginning on page 15 of this Metro staff report. In addition, the Board approved a number of bus service changes that will go into effect 90 days after the Expo Line light rail opens; those changes are on page 17 of the staff report.

The lines that will be entirely discontinued are the 26, 247, 445 and the 634. Existing bus service will replace those lines and/or Metro will modify existing service to replace those lines.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post erroneously stated that the 757 Rapid Bus on Western Avenue will be discontinued. It will continue service on weekdays and articulated bus service on Western will be bulked up.

In discussion, Supervisor Gloria Molina asked Leahy if the service changes were motivated by cost savings alone — i.e. was he looking to carve a particular dollar amount from the Metro budget. Leahy answered no, that the changes were motivated by removing low-ridership lines and duplicative service so that resources could be used to improve the rest of the system.

The Board also approved a motion asking for a report on service changes by Metro and other local transit agencies since 1997. In addition, the motion asked Metro staff to develop a policy on how savings from service reductions are reinvested and criteria for ensuring continued service in the future to “regionally significant destinations.” The motion was by Mayor Villaraigosa, Supervisor Molina and Mel Wilson, a city of Los Angeles appointee to the Board.

Metro staff will provide that information to the Board next month, giving them the chance to possibly reconsider the service changes if they find the information to be troubling or problematic.

Several dozen members of the public testified to the Board of Directors, including many members of the Bus Riders Union. Many protested that the changes will inconvenience them and make it more difficult to reach their jobs.

Over the past three months, Metro held six public hearings about the service cuts with more than 300 people testifying. The proposed changes were also approved by the five community-based Service Councils that advise Metro staff on bus service in different parts of L.A. County.

Metro Board asks for master plan for Union Station and bids for 700 new buses

Among the items approved thus far by the Metro Board of Directors at their meeting on Thursday:

•(Item 16) A motion by Board Members Antonio Villaraigosa, Gloria Molina and Richard Katz asking Metro CEO Art Leahy to prepare a master plan for Union Station, which Metro is in the process of purchasing. The motion asks Metro to conduct a design competition for architecture firms to “produce conceptual level design and visioning for a world-class Union Station inter-modal station.”

•(Item 10) The Board approved soliciting bids for 700 new compressed natural gas buses to replace 700 40-foot buses that are due to be retired from service. A news release on this item is posted after the jump. In addition, the Board approved a motion by Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael Antonovich create a pilot program to buy 30 zero-emission or super low emission buses.

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